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Respite in N.C.’s food deserts
Legislation promotes local growers in poor areas
Published Wednesday, May 22, 2013 2:07 pm
by Taylor Shaw, Triangle Tribune

RALEIGH – After two grocery stores closed in Southeast Raleigh last year, Rep. Yvonne Holley noticed a statewide problem: food deserts.

“We want to have affordable access to fresh produce and vegetables and even protein, healthy foods,” Holley (D-Wake) said.
Rural and urban communities will benefit from House Bill 957’s Food Desert Zones. Other primary sponsors of the bill are Reps. Edgar Starnes (R-Caldwell), Rodney Moore (D-Mecklenburg) and Mitchell S. Setzer (R-Catawba).

“[It’s] more than a Southeast Raleigh problem,” Holley said. “This is about making vibrant communities. It benefits North Carolina on a lot of levels.”

A food desert zone is a census tract that has been identified by the Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture as having a poverty rate greater than 20 percent or a median family income at or below 80 percent of the state’s average of $46,291.

Food desert zones have at least 500 persons or at least 33 percent of the population who live more than one mile from a grocery store in a metropolitan area or more than 10 miles from a grocery store in a rural area. If living in downtown Raleigh, the closest grocery store would be nearly three miles away in Cameron Village.

Holley looked at how to make nutrient dense foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans and low-fat dairy products accessible in areas lacking. By encouraging businesses to open in food desert zones, the bill will give tax incentives to grocers and “mom-and-pop” stores.

“This is a jobs bill. This is about hiring somebody. This is about getting a Wal-Mart Express or a Harris Teeter. This is about getting a grocery store in an area that doesn’t have one,” Holley said.

She partnered with the American Heart Association, Wake County Health and Human Services and the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to draft the bill. It would promote buying local and provide an avenue for local farmers to sell their produce.

“Everybody is excited about it because it puts mechanisms or a vehicle in place to provide healthy food for people,” Holley said.

Wake County Health and Human Services worked with Holley to explain the health component of the bill.

“She came from a perspective of looking at the developmental tiers for the counties across the state and tax credits that help those areas to better provide for the residents,” said Sue Lynn Ledford, Wake County community health director. “We fully understand that health outcomes are linked to health disparities. People with low-income, it may be a challenge to access healthy food.”

Through initiatives like “My Life Check” and “Simple Seven,” the American Heart Association promotes healthy lives free of cardiovascular disease and strokes. In 2010, the association adopted a “food tackle” to improve heart health of all Americans by 2020.

“You can’t make a healthy choice if there isn’t one to pick from,” said Betsy Vetter, AHA government relations director. “Food deserts have become more and more of an issue in communities. There is a food scarcity issue.”

Holley is working hard to get the bill on the legislative calendar.

“Win, win and win, every way you look at this bill. North Carolina wins,” she said.


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